When a team trades up 21 spots to the top of the first round — and trades a first-round pick in the following year's draft — to get a player, there's a lot to be expected of him.
Julio Jones created a buzz for his draft stock with his decorated college career at the University of Alabama. He then created a frenzy with his off-the-chart performance at the NFL Scouting Combine with a broken bone in his foot.
After four days of training camp, it's evident to everyone watching that Jones is worth such an investment and the impact he can make on an already good offense could be frightening. So much so, that one of the best playmakers in the league, Roddy White, is shaking his head at the possibilities.
"It looks good out here, I can't lie to you," White said on Monday. "I come out here every day and it looks really, really good. I want to go out there and get on the field and see what we can do against other guys. Right now we're doing a pretty good job of moving the ball. We're doing good things on offense. The pace is quicker. Matt's getting us in and out the huddle real fast. I like the way we're going."
Watching Jones up close you can see what all the fuss is about.
On Sunday during full-team drills, he made his share of catches that made the crowd stand up. On Monday morning he continued to do the same.
On the first play of the final full-team session of the morning practice, Jones raced up the sidelines and tracked a pass for an over-the-shoulder catch with a corner covering for a gain of roughly 40 yards. It was the kind of play head coach Mike Smith believes Jones is here to make and he's excited to see it.
"Julio Jones is what we anticipated and what we expected," Smith said with conviction this morning. "He had a couple of nice catches yesterday. He had a real nice catch today. Julio knows what our expectations are based on the move we made back in April. So far he's done everything that we've anticipated he would do. He's a big, strong, athletic wide receiver that's going to add explosiveness to our football team."
The key word in the offseason was "explosive" and Jones is showing he's got what it takes to take it up a notch. His explosive-play counterpart, White, doesn't think the rookie needs much work, just some fine-tuning.
"I'm just teaching him the little things," White said. "He can play football. He's a football player. It's just the little things that we've got to get down. Going out there and understanding the formations and where he's supposed to line up. After that you just let him go out there and let him play."
The first of eight padded practice sessions began Monday morning and for some guys it couldn't come soon enough. For others, the lack of an offseason gave them some concerns, but it didn't take long for all 90 players on the field at Flowery Branch to regain their feel for moving with pads.
"I was a little anxious because of no OTAs and minicamps; we haven't been in the football atmosphere so it feels like it came on a little too fast," fullback Ovie Mughelli said. "But going through the periods and getting a chance to run around a bit, it's like riding a bike. It felt good and everything went well today."
The tempo was picked up with the addition of pads, but the team still isn't at a pace consistent with the speed of Sunday. Smith said the team will have eight padded practices during training camp and two more practices this week will feature pads. Much of what was accomplished on Monday was integrating the rookies into the Atlanta Falcons way of practice.
"I saw some guys that were flying around," Smith said. "I think we're working our way into this. For the young guys it's a new process because this was their first padded practice. I really liked the energy. I thought they worked hard today."
There was a sense that with that first padded practice out of the way, camp had truly begun. The conditioning is mostly there, the mental work is still getting in, but for all intents and purposes, it's time to get serious about football.
Competitions begin now and as the heat rises, so does the pressure to learn on the fly as quick as possible. Safety Thomas DeCoud knows the younger guys are feeling it, but they're giving it everything they've got.
"We had a tempo going," DeCoud said. "There's going to be a lot of mistakes with guys swimming, it's going to be a little hotter and guys are sweating a little more. But it went well. Everyone was flying around making plays. It was a good practice for everybody."